Sep. 1—A game that started to look like a runaway ended up resembling its usual rivalry billing.
Woodrow Wilson led by three touchdowns after the first quarter before Greenbrier East finally gained its footing in the second. Defense and special teams ultimately proved the difference and helped the host Flying Eagles escape with a 42-39 victory Friday at Van Meter Stadium.
"A win is a win," Woodrow coach Street Sarrett said. "Sloppy play, but we'll get better. I'll take it."
It wasn't always sloppy for the Flying Eagles (2-0), who used special teams and defense to put 28 points on the board. It started with a well-executed onside kick to open the game. That started a drive at the Spartans 47-yard line that resulted in a six-yard touchdown run for Elijah Redfern.
After Redfern's second TD, from 3 yards, M.J. Staples stepped in front of a Brody Hamric pass for an interception that he took to the East 40 with 11 seconds left in the period. On the next play, Redfern took a deep pass from Richardson at the 12, ran around one defender and another to cross the field and get into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown and 21-0 Woodrow lead as the clock hit zeroes.
That's when the Spartans started to get back into it, and ultimately the back-and-forth began.
On the ensuing possession, Hamric connected with Grant Burdette for a 68-yard touchdown to get the Spartans on the board. But just as quickly as that happened, Woodrow's Elijah Waller went 81 yards for his second kickoff return touchdown in as many games to make it 28-7.
But East (0-2) was not deterred and continued to claw back. Even with a pair of bad snaps that led to losses of eight and seven yards, the Spartans made enough big plays to keep the drive going. The biggest was Nathan Suttle's 39-yard touchdown reception in which he escaped two tackles to get to the end zone.
After the defense forced a turnover on downs, the Spartans got with eight when Hamric and Suttle again hooked up, this time from 16 yards to make the score 28-20 heading to halftime.
"We gave them momentum," Sarrett said. "When we gamble like we do, with onside kicks and going for it on fourth down, sometimes it gets you, and it got us. That's all on me as the head coach, but I'm proud of these boys for fighting back and doing the things they did tonight. Got a solid win."
It continued right from the start of the second half, when Staples took a squib kick and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown. Again, the Spartans kept coming.
A 13-yard gain by Suttle was followed by a 15-yard penalty against Woodrow to get East into Flying Eagle territory. The Spartans eventually faced third-and-7 at the 22, and Hamric found all alone in the end zone for the score.
Woodrow again distanced itself, this time with a 43-yard TD run by Waller to put his team ahead 42-26. That's where it would stay until the first play of the fourth quarter, after the Spartans had brought down Richardson for a 13-yard loss to end the third.
Carter Hamilton blocked the punt into the end zone and Abram Wickline fell on it for the touchdown, making it 42-33.
Woodrow looked to be systematically controlling the game after that, running time off the clock. Also, an interception by Redfern gave the Eagles the ball with 6:49 to go. But the drive ended when Waller slipped on the field turf moisture on what would have been at least a first-down completion to set up what proved to be an eventful drive by the Spartans at their 28.
Stone made a big catch with outstretched arms while defended by two backs for a 30-yard completion on third-and-6 to the Woodrow 38. East was later aided by a personal foul against Woodrow, moving the ball to the 23.
Woodrow looked to have the drive stalled on fourth-and-15, but a roughing-the-passer penalty resulted in first-and-goal at the 10.
The Spartans had a 1-yard touchdown negated by penalty before Suttle scored on a two-yard run. The PAT went wide right, but the Spartans were going to need to recover an onside kick anyway.
They didn't get it. The Eagles fell on it and ran out the clock for the second straight win over the Spartans.
The Spartans showed marked improvement from last week's 26-7 loss at Point Pleasant. Hamric, a sophomore, completed 12 of 24 passes for 244 yards and four touchdowns.
"Pretty much the attitudes. I'm going to stick with that," Spartans coach Ray Lee said of the difference between Week 1 and Week 2. "We're a young football team, and when I say young, we are really young. We had five guys out here that were truly competitors, that were sophomores. They're playing football. ... 'I'm going to get better.' That's what I'm going to keep preaching to them."
Woodrow ran for 199 yards as a team, led by Waller's 93 yards on six carries. Richardson was 5-of-8 passing for 87 yards, all of it to Redfern.
The defense held East to 68 yards on the ground and had two interceptions, and special teams now has three kickoff returns for touchdowns and two executed onside kicks in two games.
"Special teams is great. Big kick returns. Defense had some stops and did some great things," Sarrett said. "We've got to clean some things up on some coverage, but we're going to get better."
Woodrow will visit Parkersburg South next week, while Greenbrier East makes its home debut against Bluefield.
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